New England Patriots

Oct 21, 2018; Chicago, IL: New England Patriots wide receiver Josh Gordon runs with the ball against Chicago Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller at Soldier Field. (Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports)

Oct 21, 2018; Chicago, IL: New England Patriots wide receiver Josh Gordon runs with the ball against Chicago Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller at Soldier Field. (Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports)

With two massively clutch plays for a banged-up Patriots offense against the Bears, Josh Gordon made his biggest impact yet for Tom Brady.

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

A surprise dilemma made Tom Brady’s afternoon at Soldier Field a lot more complicated. Battling ankle and back injuries, tight end Rob Gronkowski plummeted from questionable to inactive over the weekend, staying in New England as the Patriots took care of business without him in a 38-31 win over the Chicago Bears.

Unfortunately, the Patriots needed big plays from the offense just to keep ahead of Chicago and make up for their early turnovers. In the absence of Gronkowski, the big-play hero from last Sunday’s 43-40 win over the Chiefs, someone else needed to have big-time moments to keep the Patriots offense moving.

That’s where Brady wants to be able to turn to Josh Gordon, the ultra-talented receiver who has gradually increased his role and improved his chemistry with No. 12 since coming over from a trade with the Browns. He most certainly gained more trust in this one, turning just four catches into 100 yards and helping set up two important touchdown drives as one of the Patriots’ clutch performers in Chicago.

The first one came with the Patriots behind 17-14, mainly due to killer turnovers. Where would Brady usually look if he’s going to chuck a jump-ball over 15 yards downfield on fourth-and-1? Gronkowski. Without question.

On Sunday, it was Gordon’s turn to be the Next Man Up™ in the freakish big play department. Gordon made a dazzling individual effort to leap and snag the ball on a back-shoulder throw, and thankfully he maintained control and didn’t get hurt as he crashed violently to the turf, losing his helmet in the process. The play was significant for the Patriots’ momentum, and certainly a major improvement on Brady and Gordon’s prior miscues on back-shoulder plays against the Chiefs.

“I think we just worked on that play, worked on a connection from last week, and having to make some adjustments,” said Gordon. “This week I had a better look at it. Better timing, I think, with Tom. Having a week of practice helped, and I was able to just go make a play.”

Oct 21, 2018; Chicago, IL: New England Patriots wide receiver Josh Gordon makes a catch against Chicago Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller during the first half at Soldier Field. (Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports)

Oct 21, 2018; Chicago, IL: New England Patriots wide receiver Josh Gordon makes a catch against Chicago Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller during the first half at Soldier Field. (Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports)

Failure to convert in that situation would’ve set up the Bears at their own 42-yard line with a lead to extend. Especially considering the hit-or-miss nature of Josh McDaniels’ fourth-down play-call, Gordon’s ability to come up with the big catch in that spot was arguably the single biggest play of the game for the Patriots.

That didn’t complete Gordon’s afternoon making a Gronk-like impact at crucial times. The Bears still had plenty of time to catch up to the Patriots with the score at 31-24 with just over 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter. But all of a sudden, Brady got time to throw deep over the middle to Gordon on an in-cut, giving him a chance for a big gain after the catch. Gordon rewarded Brady, making multiple defenders miss as he danced all the way down to the 1-yard line. His play was the ultimate catalyst for James White’s second touchdown of the game two plays later.

It looked like Gordon could have made it into the end zone, but barely came up short. He admitted he ran out of gas after the Patriots drove nearly the entire field.

“Unfortunately I got a little bit tired at the end of that 96-yard drive [laughs], but it was fun, it was great,” said Gordon of the 55-yarder. “Glad I was able to get a good touch on the ball and was able to make something happen.”

Brady sure sounds excited about Gordon’s development in the offense. He’s looking to consistently improve his connection with the receiver, whose game-breaking talent is only becoming more obvious.

“We’re just going to keep developing our confidence in one another, and [Gordon’s] making great plays when I throw him the ball,” said Brady. “Just got to keep doing it.”

With only two plays, Gordon showed the seismic effect he can have on an offense. He’s clearly physically capable of making game-changing plays. That he’s pulling them off in pivotal situations is showing a supreme level of trust from the quarterback. He’s providing Brady with another formidable target to pair with Gronkowski once the tight end returns. Gordon is greatly improving the Patriots’ outlook on what to expect from Brady’s receivers in “gotta have it” situations.

But if Gronk’s not out there for any more time, Brady looks ready to trust Gordon in the biggest of spots anyway. Just when more major injury concerns are striking the Patriots, Brady may be discovering a new big-time weapon.

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.